Reader Perspective: A Vietnamese Massage With A Not So Happy Ending

by DIWYY · 4 comments

I had spent the past couple days trekking in the Cat Tien National Park which resulted in some muscle soreness. My friend Tyler and I decided that a massage was in order so we ventured over to the local karaoke/massage parlor. The fact that there was a karaoke bar in the front of the massage parlor should have been a big tip off that we were not in for top-notch massages, but we were naive.

We each paid three US dollars for what was supposed to be an hour long massage. Tyler was then escorted directly to a massage room and I was thrown into a storage room to change. When I came out of the storage area, there was no one there waiting to show me where to go next, forcing me to timidly journey back to the karaoke bar in my towel.

I proceeded to the woman who I had paid earlier, pointed at my neck and asked for a massage. She then angrily ordered me into another small room and closed the door behind me. It was a sauna. I’ve never really been one for saunas. I get bored very fast and in a country like Vietnam I don’t feel the need to sit in a hot humid room. If I wanted to be in a sweltering environment sweating my ass off I could just go outside where I would at least have a scenic view while doing so. I figured that they were just trying to loosen up my muscles though, so I patiently waited… and waited…and waited.

After ten minutes I was bored out of my mind and uncomfortably sweaty. Nobody had come to retrieve me, so I decided to go back into the karaoke room and ask for a massage again. If they thought they were going to get away without giving me an hour-long massage they were wrong. This time instead of bringing me to a massage room like I expected would happen, the irate Vietnamese woman threw me into a shower room with a door that refused to stay shut.

I rinsed off quickly and was exasperated that Tyler had been getting a massage for at least fifteen minutes while I was being shuffled between rooms. I marched into the karaoke bar again and asked for my massage. The third time was the charm and I was led to a small dimly lit very beige room. The satin sheets were a washed out seventies floral print that may or may not have been washed since they were first thrown onto the bed a few decades ago; it was impossible to tell.

This massage was very similar to my first Vietnamese massage. It was wimpy and careless. She prodded my back like a six year old touches raw hamburger meat with disgust. On top of the mediocrity of the massage, my masseuse, a term I use loosely, kept leaving the room every ten minutes or so. At the time I had no idea why. There would be a knock on the door, she would have a quick talk in Vietnamese and then she would leave. These mystery talks apparently were revolving around the topic of the man in the next room, my friend Tyler.

To put it simply, he just wanted a massage and they wanted to give him a little something extra. After his straightforward refusal of a happy ending, his masseuse decided the problem was that there weren’t enough girls in the room to satisfy him, which is why my masseuse kept getting called back to duty in the room next door. Poor Tyler.

After my masseuse returned for the fourth time, she started forcefully talking and pointing at my back. I figured that she must have been asking if she could rub harder so I nodded and said okay. Boy was that a mistake.

She left the room again and when she came back she poured tea tree oil on my back. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the severe pain she began to inflict on me next. She had brought with her some kind of torture tool and decided to dig it into my back as hard as possible. The tool craved outlines around my shoulder blades and vertebrae. I wiggled and writhed under the pressure she exerted with her torture tool, but she refused to relax.

When the abuse was over, she yelled at me in Vietnamese which I took as a cue to roll off the bed and escape. As I slid off though, something metal fell to the floor. We both reached for it, but I got there faster only to find that the terrible torture device had been a dog tag! Yes my friends, it was a dog tag, the kind the US army gives our soldiers. She grabbed it quickly out of my hand and shuffled my confused and horrified self back into the storage room.

I was still connecting the dots in my boggled mind, so I couldn’t defend myself when the indignant madam barged in on me half dressed and stole three whole dollars from me for a tip. My ongoing shock from the dog tag discovery prevented me from fully realizing what was happening at the time, but shortly afterward I was furious. I had given the masseuse a 100% tip for a massage that left my back bruised for a week!

Tyler was nowhere to be found when I was leaving because he had left early due to his sexual harassment. I was worried because our guide had warned us that the women in our group should not walk alone around the grounds at night because the male monkeys might attack us. According to him, male monkeys are attracted to female humans and have no problem showing their affection. Tyler had left me to walk home alone, so I sprinted as fast as I could back to the cabins because I didn’t want my terrible massage hour to end with a monkey rape.

After I got back to the cabins I showed my battle wounds to my fellow travelers and Tyler told me all about his own disturbing massage. We have no idea why my masseuse attacked me with a dog tag. It could have been her idea of a good way to exfoliate, a release of some pent up aggression against Americans, or maybe she was just having a terrible day and decided to take it out on me. What I do know is that I should have learned from my first massage in Vietnam, but I didn’t.

Written by Danielle Koffler who is currently teaching English abroad in South Korea. Be sure to check out her blog, Wake Up and Dance.

Jenny Q. 1

Thank you for sharing this experience. I admit I did laugh (out loud at the tragic reality of monkey rape), but I hope you’re feeling better and looking back and laughing too!

Poppy 2

I too, had a little giggle at your expense but you have to admit that it’s the travel disasters that make the best stories when you get home! I had a lovely head, neck & shoulder massage for 60,000d (about £2 ) on Cat Ba Island in Vietnam so can verify they don’t all end in tourture – keep persevering!

Tiffany 3

As someone who has received a very interesting massage in Vietnam myself (my “masseuse” climbed onto my back and proceeded to walk up and down my body before I realized what was happening), I can completely empathize with your experience!

However, as a Vietnamese, I do want to point out that the dog tag was not intended to be a “torture tool”. It is Vietnamese tradition to use a small device (often times a coin) and oil to scratch a person’s back (yes, until red bruises show up) as a means to help a sick person heal quicker (i.e. to promote health). As outrageous as that sounds, that method has worked out well for a number of Vietnamese people I know, and has helped them to recover speedily.

I don’t understand why she would have done that to you as part of the massage since that’s usually reserved for ill people, but please don’t think that it was completely meant to be some sort of cruel and unusual punishment.


Jen 4

I just had a similar experience. I was left in a room with a steam stall, sauna stall, tub and massage table. I waited and waited. Rather than shower, I was put in a tub! The massage was terrible and my back feels no better. The girl wouldn’t even leave the room for me to get dressed! At the end she demanded a tip. Tip also being the only English word she knew!

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